Safely and properly towing a trailer is comprised of many factors.
- The tow vehicle and trailer need to be properly matched.
- You need all the correct hitch components.
- You need a thorough understanding of topics like tires, weights, hitching and unhitching.
- You need experience actually towing the trailer down the road.
Today I want to look at five towing mistakes RV owners make to help prevent them from happening to you.
Number one, and possibly the most important mistake is not properly matching the tow vehicle and trailer. The first step is to determine exactly how much weight the tow vehicle can safely tow. This information can usually be found in the vehicle owner’s manual. If not, there are published towing guides from vehicle manufacturers available on the internet. When you use towing guides, it’s important to know how your vehicle is configured, and pay attention to any footnotes in the towing guide. There can be two identical vehicles with the only difference being the rear axle ratio, and there can be thousands of pounds difference in the tow ratings.
After establishing the vehicle’s tow capacity, you need to make sure the trailer you plan to purchase is compatible with the tow vehicle. This is where you can get into trouble. Lots of people look at the trailer’s dry or Unloaded Vehicle Weight (UVW) and assume they can tow the trailer. The problem is after you load all of your camping supplies, and account for water, propane, and any dealer installed equipment like a battery, the tow vehicle is overloaded.
RV 101 Tip: The best scenario is to find a trailer with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) equal to, or less than the tow rating of your tow vehicle. There is typically a substantial difference between the dry weight and the GVWR. This way, even if you load the trailer to the maximum GVWR the tow vehicle is still rated to tow the trailer.
Next, and this is another weight issue, lots of folks don’t consider any weight added to the tow vehicle itself. When vehicle weight ratings are established the manufacturer bases ratings on an empty truck, with full fluid levels and a driver weighing 150 pounds. Let’s say your tow vehicle is rated to tow 5,000 pounds. Now let’s add three passengers for a combined weight of 400 pounds, 150 pounds of cargo in the vehicle, and 200 pounds of aftermarket products added to the vehicle, for a total of 750 pounds. This reduces your 5,000-pound tow capacity to 4,250 pounds. Any weight you add to the tow vehicle reduces the towing capacity by that same amount. You can see how easy it is to get into trouble with weights.
RV 101 Tip: An easy way to determine a vehicle’s towing capacity is to take the vehicle’s Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) and subtract the vehicle’s Curb Weight (CW) from that figure. For example, if the GCWR is 15,000 lbs. and the CW is 6,000 lbs. the towing capacity is 9,000 lbs. But, keep in mind any weight you add to the tow vehicle reduces the towing capacity by that same amount.
Note: The weight of the fully loaded tow vehicle and fully loaded trailer (when combined) cannot exceed the vehicle’s GCWR.
Number three on my list is trailer tires. Lots of people you talk to say tire blowouts on a trailer are caused by faulty tires, when the real causes are old weathered tires, overloaded tires or under-inflated tires. By old tires, I mean tires damaged by the elements, usually sun related damage. Tires stored outdoors need to be covered and owner’s need to inspect tires for any sidewall cracking or checking. Never tow a trailer with any of these tire conditions.
Trailer tire weight ratings are based on the construction of the tire and the amount of air pressure in the tire. You should familiarize yourself with tire load and inflation tables published by tire manufacturers. After you are more familiar with these tables you need to have the fully loaded trailer weighed to see if any overload conditions exist.
For accurate tire information you need to weigh each wheel position individually. This is hard to do unless you are at a rally or other organized event where this weighing service is being offered. The next best thing is to weigh each axle separately. This will tell you if you are within the axle weight rating, but you won’t know how that weight is distributed from side-to-side. At a minimum it will give you a better idea of the correct tire inflation, based on axle weights. Divide the axle weight by two to determine if the tires and tire pressure at each end of the axle can support that amount of weight.
Number four is not using the proper hitch-work. For starter’s it’s important you understand that every component in a towing system has a weight rating, and your towing system is based on the weakest link in the chain. What I mean is, if your vehicle is rated to tow 6,000 pounds but the hitch ball you are using is rated for 5,000 pounds the most you can tow is 5,000 pounds. The hitch receiver, hitch ball, ball mount, safety chains and every component in the towing system have individual weight ratings.
If all of that checks out, next you want to make sure the trailer tongue weight (TW)is 10 to 15% of the loaded trailer weight, for any trailer weighing more than 2,000 pounds. Too much or too little tongue weight can have adverse effects on how the trailer tows. Your vehicle owner’s manual will usually specify the amount of trailer tongue weight you can have before needing a Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH). Sometimes it’s possible to redistribute weight in the trailer if the tongue weight is too heavy or too light.
A WD hitch uses additional hardware to distribute a percentage of the travel trailer’s tongue weight to the axles on the tow vehicle and the axles on the trailer. WD hitches are used to tow heavier trailers and improve the tow vehicle’s handling. If the trailer you are towing has brakes, you need an electronic brake controller installed to activate the brakes and you should always use some type of sway control on any trailer you are towing that weighs in excess of 2,000 pounds.
Number five on my list is not performing pre-trip checks prior to pulling the trailer. Lots of preventable towing related incidents can be attributed to not making pre-trip checks. It’s a simple matter of using a checklist to make sure nothing was forgotten or overlooked on the trailer or the tow vehicle prior to leaving on a trip.
Well there you go, 5 common trailer towing mistakes and how you can avoid them from happening to you. For more information on using and maintaining your RV take a minute to visit www.rvonlinetraining.com
Mark J. Polk
RV Education 101